Single Day Pemi Loop

Hiking a single day Pemi Loop (31.5 mi, 9,000+ft of elevation gain) is a bucket list item for many hikers and trail runners. Backpacker Magazine labeled it as one of the toughest day hikes in the US and we tackled it in 15.5 hours!

Stats

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Route

Segment Distance

Total Distance

Route Description

0 mi0 miStart at Lincoln Woods Trailhead
1.4 mi1.4 miLincoln Woods Trail to Osseo Trail
4.1 mi5.5 miOsseo Trail to summit of Mt. Flume
1.2 mi6.7 miFranconia Ridge Trail to summit of Mt. Liberty
2.1 mi8.8 miContinue on Franconia Ridge Trail to Little Haystack
0.7 mi9.5 miContinue to summit of Mt. Lincoln
1.0 mi10.5 miContinue to summit of Mt. Lafayette
3.7 mi14.5 miGarfield Ridge Trail to summit of Mt. Garfield
2.9 mi17.1 miContinue to Galehead Hut
0.8 mi17.9 miUp Twinway to summit of South Twin Mountain (relentless climb)
3.3 mi21.2 miContinue on Twinway then Bondcliff Trail to summit of Mt. Bond
1.2 mi22.4 miContinue to summit of Bondcliff
6.2 mi28.6 miDown Bondcliff Trail to Lincoln Woods Trail
2.9 mi31.5 miLincoln Woods Trail back to parking lot

Map

Note: Map mileage and elevation gain does not match stats because Gaia GPS tends to undercount them. Mileage stats were calculated using the White Mountain Guide and Trail Maps.

Single Day Pemi Loop Tips

Water and Services Along the Way

Water Sources at AMC Campsites and Huts – distances going clockwise

  • Liberty Spring Tentsite – 7 mi (Spring and tentsite 0.3 mi down Liberty Spring Trail)
  • Garfield Ridge Campsite – 14.7 mi (Spring along the trail, shelter and campsites down a short side trail)
  • Galehead Hut – 17.1 mi (Potable water from a spigot outside and snacks available for purchase)
  • Guyot Shelter – 20.7 mi (Spring, shelter, and campsites down a short side trail)
  • Water is also available from various streams after descending from Bondcliff
Direction: Clockwise or Counterclockwise

Clockwise or counterclockwise, that is the question. We chose to hike the Pemi Loop clockwise, but there seem to be merits to each.

 

Clockwise seems to be the preferred direction.

  • Clockwise Benefits
    • More elevation gain in the beginning of the day when your legs are fresh
    • Shorter (5.5 mi) to the first peak at Mt. Flume
    • Traverse Franconia Ridge in the early morning before it will get more crowded
    • Descend Lafayette via Garfield Ridge Trail is really steep and would be tough to climb up
    • Leave the easiest flat terrain of Lincoln Woods for the end of a long day
  • Clockwise Downsides
    • Climbing the Twinway from Galehead Hut to South Twin in this direction is really tough
    • No bailout options in the 2nd half – you pretty much have to finish once you get past South Twin

Counterclockwise is not as typical. I usually only hear of people choosing to hike the Pemi Loop counterclockwise when they return for a 2nd or 3rd time. 

  • Counterclockwise Benefits
    • Move quickly through the first 6 miles because Lincoln Woods is so flat
    • Early morning light on the Bonds if you start before sunrise
    • Easier to descend from South Twin to Galehead Hut in this direction
    • More bail out options and services in the 2nd half if you’re tired or run into issues
    • Shorter flat section out Lincoln Woods at the end
  • Counterclockwise Downsides
    • Longer (9.1 mi) of hiking to reach the first peak at Bondcliff
    • Very steep climbing up Lafayette in this direction
    • Traverse Franconia Ridge later in the day when it is more likely to be crowded
Pemi Loop Variations

Basic Pemi Loop. The “basic” Pemi Loop includes 8 peaks: Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Bond, and Bondcliff. All these peaks are directly on the loop, no spur trails or backtracking required.

Extended Pemi Loop. The 8 “basic” Pemi Loop peaks and add on Galehead (0.8 mi extra) and West Bond (1 mi extra) that are spur trails off of the Pemi Loop. If you are working on the 48, we suggest you add these two peaks. The ascents are not too difficult, you get a great view from West Bond, and you might have to pass over other Pemi Loop peaks to reach them on day hikes. Essentially, you’re almost there, so bag these peaks while you’re so close.

Super-Extended Pemi Loop (sometimes called “Fancy” Pemi Loop). The 10 “extended” Pemi Loop peaks and add on North Twin (2.6 mi extra) and Zealand (2.6 mi extra). We would recommend you consider adding these peaks if you make the Pemi Loop a multi-day backpacking trip.

Preparation

Ongoing training. We’ve been trying to stay in hiking shape as much as possible. See our post for our Boston-based training when we can’t get out for big hikes!

Other Big Hikes. Hiking a single day Pemi Loop is not to be taken lightly. This is one of the toughest day hikes in the country and its reputation is well deserved. Before doing this, consider these other big hikes in the Whites to get yourself ready:

Timing and Logistics

Start early! With at least 31.5 miles to cover, hiking a single day Pemi Loop will take almost 16 hours hiking at a 2mph pace including breaks. So, expect to begin or end in the dark, and possibly both. We recommend starting early, by at least 5 am, and packing a headlamp for night hiking. To make the lack of sleep really worth it, though, sunrise from a 4,000 footer is a pretty special experience!

Carry plenty of water and a water filter. We carried 3-4 liters of water each so that we could make it 17.1 miles to Galehead Hut before refilling. Be sure to carry at least 2 liters, possibly more if it’s hot and sunny.

Bring food to fuel your body. You will expend a ton of calories, so eat many snacks along the way to keep up your energy. Think about what you might bring on a 10 mile day hike and multiply that by 3. Your stomach will thank you along the way.

Check the weather (helpful links here). Always be aware of the expected conditions so you can plan accordingly and bring the right gear. This is particularly important on a hike like the Pemi Loop that spends time above treeline. We always carry long sleeves, pants, and a rain layer just in case.

Hiking a Single Day Pemi Loop

Hike Date: Jul 25, 2020

Backpacker Magazine labeled the Pemi Loop as one of the toughest day hikes in the United States. The “basic” Pemi Loop is a 31.5 mile loop that traverses 8 4,000+ft peaks (Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, Bond, and Bondcliff) with 9,000+ft of elevation gain, in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The trails are littered with roots, ladders, rock slabs, and boulder fields, without a switchback in sight. This loop perhaps offers the most challenging terrain and arguably the most beautiful mountain views in the Northeast. Two years ago we did the “extended” Pemi Loop (see tips below for more details) on a two day backpacking trip and it was one of the hardest things we had ever done. After that, we never thought we would be able to do a single day Pemi – it just seemed beyond our capabilities. But, after two more years of hiking, training, and soaking up every opportunity to get to the White Mountains, on somewhat of a whim, we decided to tackle this beast of a hike.

We completed this clockwise hike (see more on direction in the tips below) in 15.5 hours on a perfect summer day!

Since we live in Boston, we woke up at midnight and drove the 2 or so hours to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead. The Forest Service charges a small fee, $5 per day, for parking at Lincoln Woods. You could also buy an annual White Mountain National Forest recreation pass or an America the Beautiful pass (covers all federal lands including National Parks) if you regularly visit locations that charge fees. We buy the America the Beautiful pass each year to cover our parking fees in the White Mountains and to visit National Parks around the country. Here are the other White Mountain National Forest fee areas.

Mount Flume and Mount Liberty

3:15 am - 6:15am

3:15am start in Lincoln Woods
Osseo Trail sign
Ladder on the way to Mt. Flume

At 3:15 am we crossed the bridge over the Pemigewasset River that we know all too well in the pitch black, with our headlamps guiding the way. After briskly walking the 1.4 miles of the flat Lincoln Woods Trail, we turned left to go 4.1 miles up the Osseo Trail to our first peak, Mt. Flume. Osseo Trail provided a really nice start to the day – its gradual incline for the first couple of miles gave us time to warm up and find a rhythm. Then, we hit the rock stairs and ladders telling us that we were making our way closer to the peak. We paused at one of the overlooks to see the sky starting to turn pink and we knew that we needed to move quickly to catch the sunrise from the top of Flume. We booked it as fast as possible up the steep rocky section and made it to Mt. Flume at the exact moment the sun was rising over the Pemigewasset Wilderness at 5:30 am. It felt like our timing and planning worked out perfectly, a real testament to synchronicity, which set a positive tone for the rest of the day.

Pre-sunrise view from overlook
Sunrise from Mt. Flume
Mt. Flume summit

Along with a couple of other early morning hikers, we paused at the summit to take in the incredible views of Franconia Notch to our left and sunrise over the Pemi to our right. Proud of our ~2.5 mile an hour pace, we pressed on to hike the col between Flume and Liberty, which was dappled with intensely bright orange patches from the rising sun. This section is a relatively easy 1.2 miles with a short, steep, slab-filled ascent to Liberty. Since this was the third time we’ve hiked Liberty, we snapped a couple of quick pictures, refueled with a snack, and made our way along Franconia Ridge Trail. 

Rock slabs ascending Mt. Liberty
Mt. Liberty summit

Franconia Ridge

6:15am - 8:20am

View of the Pemigewasset Wilderness

Now on the Appalachian Trail, the white blazes led us 3.7 miles from Liberty over Little Haystack (not a 4,000 footer) to Lincoln and Lafayette. This was without a doubt one of the most gorgeous mornings we’ve spent hiking. The ridgeline was completely clear with just a slight breeze and a few clouds in the sky. It was still early, so day hikers weren’t quite mobbing the peaks yet. Hiking to Lincoln first, the steep ascent was deceiving. It was a tough climb, but being out in the open above treeline with views of Cannon and the Kinsmans to our left and all that we were about to hike in the Pemi to the right, we almost forgot how rugged the terrain was (almost). The setting and the experience just filled us up so much!

Rocky ascent to Mt. Lincoln
View of Cannon and the Kinsmans

One of our absolute favorite views is of Liberty and Flume from standing atop Lincoln. You see the ridge you just traversed along with those two uniquely pointed peaks against a sea of mountains stretching to the horizon. We took a pause and enjoyed these views with a few other hikers who were either doing the Franconia Ridge Loop or the full Pemi Loop like us.

View of Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, and the Franconia Ridge Trail from Mt. Lincoln

After fueling up with a few more snacks, we continued on the ridgeline towards Lafayette. At Lafayette, there were many more day hikers at the summit, the beginning of the masses that traverse Franconia Ridge each summer day. We actually really love the section along Garfield Ridge Trail just after Lafayette because it is so much quieter. So we looked back at the first three peaks we just tackled, and started toward Garfield.

Climbing Franconia Ridge
On Mt. Lafayette
Franconia Ridge Trail to Mt. Lafayette
View of the Pemigewasset Wilderness from Mt. Lafayette

Mount Garfield

8:20am - 10:25am

After leaving the crowds behind on Lafayette, we enjoyed great views from the open ridgeline of what was coming next on the Pemi Loop. Trekking past the cairns lining Garfield Ridge Trail truly feels like you are walking to the edge of the world. This section is magical, but it is also short-lived. The bone-jarring descent comes all too soon. 

Walking Garfield Ridge Trail
Cairn on Garfield Ridge Trail

When we did this as a 2-day loop a couple of years ago, we hated the descent from Franconia Ridge and the following ascent to Mt. Garfield on this 3.7 mile stretch. Leading up to our single day Pemi, this was the section we were most concerned about. But, to our pleasant surprise, we actually enjoyed it and found it to be one of the highlights of the entire day! It felt great to transform a previously unpleasant experience into a really positive one. We dropped down quickly from Franconia Ridge on a pretty steep and rocky section – be careful taking those steps. Then, the terrain flattened out with only mild undulation through a beautiful wooded forest that was just glowing in the bright morning sunshine. It was a bit muddy at times, so we took careful steps on rocks and bog bridges. We relished the flat sections before the short, but tough ascent to Garfield. Not wanting to lose momentum, we cruised through this section with no breaks and bagged our 5th peak of the day by 10:15 am. With plenty of space to sit, even on a crowded peak, we perched ourselves atop Garfield, taking in the 360 degree views including the 4 peaks we just climbed for a much needed break. 

Mossy trail
Rocky ascent to Mt. Garfield
View of the first half of the Pemi Loop from Mt. Garfield

Galehead Hut

10:25am - 12:00pm

From Garfield, it was 2.9 miles to Galehead Hut. We first passed Garfield Ridge Campsite, which has a nice spring right on the trail, providing the first opportunity to fill up water so far. This section of descent can be tricky – the spring often turns part of the steep rock boulder trail into a little stream, so footing gets slick. After this part, the rest of the way to Galehead Hut was beautiful and relatively easy on the legs until the last quarter of a mile climb. Truth be told, Kathy took a pretty hard fall slipping off a rock right before Galehead Hut because her shoes were pretty muddy and the entire Pemi Loop is littered with rocks, so be careful!

Steep and rocky descent from Mt. Garfield
Undulating trail to Galehead Hut

When we got to Galehead Hut, we were shocked by the number of AT thru-hikers, backpackers, and day hikers there. AMC installed a spigot on the outside of the hut so hikers could fill up water so we waited in line for that and quickly moved on, trying to avoid the packed area. Here, there is also an option to tag another 4,000 footer, Galehead.

Galehead Hut

South Twin

12:00pm - 1:10pm

In hindsight, we probably should have taken a rest despite the crowd because the next 0.8 miles up South Twin is probably the toughest stretch of the entire clockwise Pemi Loop. The Twinway climbs from Galehead Hut pretty much straight up a rocky jumble. You won’t find any switchbacks and we often found ourselves looking up what seemed like a never ending trail into the sky. We took this section very slowly, taking many breaks along the way. After what felt like eternity, we made it up to the summit of South Twin with its sweeping views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. 

Twinway up South Twin
Never-ending rock staircase to South Twin

Exhausted, we sat at the summit in a bit of a trance and marveled at the ground we had covered. Then, we heard a hiker emerging from the dreaded 0.8 mile ascent that we just completed say with a smile, “Well, that sucked!” and all of the hikers sitting at the summit erupted in a laughter of agreement. This moment perfectly encapsulated the single day Pemi experience: challenge, joy, accomplishment, pride, pain, awe, all at once. We told ourselves that it was “all downhill from here” – a complete lie since we still had to climb Bond and Bondcliff, but we knew that we had already covered the most challenging terrain and that there was no turning back. We were going to finish a single day Pemi Loop!

View from South Twin

Mount Bond and Bondcliff

1:10pm - 3:40pm

Rejuvenated after a longer break, we loved the 3.3 mile section between South Twin and Mt. Bond, which consisted of the Twinway and Bondcliff Trail. We started down the Twinway which began with a rocky descent, shifted into a flatter wooded section, and then transformed into a boulder field above treeline. During this section, we left the Appalachian Trail, which turns and passes over Mt. Guyot toward Zealand, and continued on Bondcliff Trail. Ducking into the trees once again, the path turned back into a typically White Mountain section of rocks and roots. We passed Guyot Campsite (another opportunity to fill water, but down a side trail), and began the climb to Mt. Bond. To our absolute surprise and excitement, this was a relatively easy climb with some flat sections to let our legs take it easy for a few steps!

Descending South Twin
Selfie on the way down from South Twin
Twinway
Climbing Mt. Bond

Mt. Bond offers what we believe is the best view of Bondcliff and the rugged, above treeline trail leading up to it. 

View of Bondcliff and Franconia Ridge from Mt. Bond

With our final peak in sight, we only took a brief pause on Mt. Bond before setting off for our last peak of the day, just 1.2 miles down the trail. Having the Franconia Ridge and Bondcliff trails bookend the day is one of the best aspects of the Pemi Loop. Hiking above treeline in the Whites is a marvelous experience on fair weather days. The breeze cooled us off just enough as we picked our steps amongst the rocks. When we got to Bondcliff, we took what is an iconic White Mountain picture of Kathy standing on the edge of a sheer dropoff with West Bond and Owl’s Head (which to many looks like a sleeping elephant) in the background. At this point, we caught up with a couple of groups who were also tackling a single day Pemi Loop and shared in our collective accomplishment knowing that it actually was “all downhill from here” now. It was also wonderful to gaze across at the ridge we traversed hours before while standing on the final mountain that seemed so far away that morning.

Bondcliff Trail
Bondliff summit
Taking in the view from Bondcliff

Final Stretch

3:40pm - 6:45pm

Wanting to get to our car before dark, we basked in our glory for a moment more and started down Bondcliff for the last 9.1 miles. We dropped elevation quickly. With battered feet from rock hopping all day, we felt so grateful for the sections of soft pine needle covered trails to cushion our footfalls.

After crossing a few streams and carefully avoiding knee-deep mud sections, we joined Lincoln Woods Trail. We walked on this long, tree-covered, flat section, which was peppered with old railroad ties until we came to a bridge crossing close to swimming spots like Franconia Falls. At this point, we knew we only had 2.9 miles of flat trail to go! Even though we were tired, sweaty, and sore, our pride and sense of accomplishment fueled us for the home stretch. We recounted the highlights of our day, practiced walking meditation, and powered through this section much faster than we anticipated. At 6:45pm, after 15.5 hours on trail, we reached the final bridge that we started from early that morning. We had completed what seemed impossible for us just a short time ago – a single day Pemi Loop!

Lincoln Woods Trail
Finished!

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8 Comments

  1. Kerri
    August 21, 2020
    Reply

    This gives me so much hope! I am setting out at 2am tonight to start my single day Pemi! I don’t hike as fast but I believe after doing the Presi and WCM traverse last weekend, I got this!

    • Kathy
      August 22, 2020
      Reply

      You got this! You are probably on your hike now. Hope you are loving it. Let us know how it goes!

  2. […] On our way back to East Osceola, we alternated between walking quickly and butt sliding. We carefully climbed down the chimney bypass and made the ascent to East Osceola in relatively good time. We paused on that ascent to take in the views toward the Pemigewasset Wilderness from a small overlook. It’s another great viewpoint along this route and we enjoyed seeing the landscape that we have traversed in previous year on our 2 day and single day Pemi Loops. […]

  3. […] usually has incredible views of the entire Pemigewasset Wilderness, as we’ve seen during our Pemi Loops. But, alas, mother nature had other plans on this day and the clouds stayed put. Knowing we had […]

  4. Chris G
    May 10, 2022
    Reply

    Did you filter your water at each stop? We’re planning a single day Pemi this summer, trying to figure out how to manage the water stops. Great summary of your trip, what a fantastic day and an awesome accomplishment! We did the Presidential Traverse last year, what a life changing experience.

    • Kathy
      May 10, 2022
      Reply

      Hey Chris! Glad the post was helpful.

      On our single day Pemi, we carried enough water to reach Galehead Hut, which has a spigot where you can fill up potable water. That’s the only place we needed to fill our water for the day.

      However, you do pass a spring soon after Garfield at Garfield Ridge Shelter and there are streams when descending the Bonds. We would filter water for both of those sources if we needed it.

      Single day Pemi was one of the best experiences! If you loved the Presi traverse, you’ll love this one too. Enjoy it!

  5. Brendan
    July 22, 2022
    Reply

    Thank you for posting such a detailed review of your experience! I am going to hike this tomorrow starting at the same time and I hope to finish around the same time both of you did. Feeling optimistic after hiking my first Presi traverse last weekend 🙂

    • Kathy
      July 31, 2022
      Reply

      We are so glad the post was helpful! We hope you had an incredible hike!

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